Australian F-35As participate in Arnhem Thunder 21

Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)-operated Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs have been deployed to RAAF Base Darwin, Northern Territory, to participate in Exercise Arnhem Thunder for the first time.

Ten F-35As from No 3 Squadron arrived at the base on May 12 to take part in the four-week event, which served as one of the RAAF’s largest domestic training exercises of this year and concluded on June 15. Arnhem Thunder 21 provided its participants with important force generation training, with a focus on high-end collective training, which involved multiple Force Element Groups (FEGs) operating from RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal.

Approximately 50 aircraft and 500 personnel were involved in the exercise, which also utilised the Mount Bundy Training Area and Delamere Air Weapons Range.

RAAF F-35A with external GBU-12 load at Arnhem Thunder 2021 [Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/LAC Steward Gould]
A Royal Australian Air Force-operated F-35A Lightning II - serial A35-022, assigned to No 3 Squadron - in so-called ‘Beast Mode’ loaded for the very first time with inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided general-purpose munitions while taking off to head to the Delamere Air Weapons Range in the Northern Territory during Exercise Arnhem Thunder on May 17, 2021. Commonwealth of Australia - Department of Defence/LAC Stuart Gould

Commander Air Combat Group, Air Cmdre Tim Alsop, said Arnhem Thunder focused on the Air Combat Group’s interoperability with other FEGs – Air Mobility Group; Surveillance and Response Group; and Combat Support Group – in an offensive counter-air environment from a deployed location. He said: “Exposure to large-scale, multi-FEG scenarios in an away-base environment is of vital importance to the training outcomes of all elements across [the] air force.”

The exercise also provided training in air base activation in an austere environment. “The exercise will begin with force integration training and large force employment scenarios, followed by a forward operating base being activated by a contingency response squadron and other combat support elements,” Alsop continued.

In addition to the F-35As, 19 more aircraft across four types were stationed at RAAF Base Darwin for the exercise. This comprised ten Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets from No 1 Squadron; six Boeing EA-18G Growlers from No 6 Squadron; one Airbus KC-30A from No 33 Squadron and two Boeing E-7A Wedgetails from No 2 Squadron.

A further 21 aircraft operated from RAAF Base Tindal for the event. This included 12 Boeing F/A-18A Hornets from No 75 Squadron; five British Aerospace (BAe) Hawk Mk 127s from No 76 Squadron; one Leonardo C-27J Spartan from No 35 Squadron; two Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Super Hercules from No 37 Squadron and one Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from No 36 Squadron.